With Love’s Light Wings Did I O’erperch These Walls

When I was in college, a friend took me and another friend up in an elevator in the Ala Moana hotel. We walked into the lobby, grabbed an elevator, and got off at some floor kind of high up. We went through a door to get to the stairs, then walked down half a flight, where another door opened out, onto a balcony.

The balconies above and below were, I think, for hotel rooms. This one seemed only to serve the purpose of — heck, I have no idea what that was there for.

We hung out for a little while and got out of there, probably to get food somewhere open late.

A few months later, I was with a girl on a date, and we were in the area.  So of course I took her up there.  Maybe we brought some food and made a picnic of it, or maybe we just hung out and looked out at the lights.  It was windy; I remember that.  It wasn’t as romantic as it could have been, because dang, it was this little balcony with nowhere to sit or anything.  All we could do was stand there, arms resting on the rail.  It was cool because we weren’t supposed to be there, and it was cool because who does that?  But the experience itself left something to be desired.

I may have scored romantic points just because it was unusual.  And it was, unlike most of my creative dates, completely stolen from my friend who was dumb enough to bring two guy friends up there.  This would be a better story if, while we were up there, standing really close to combat the chill, the door swung open and that friend appeared with a girl.

You know what else would make this a better story?  If I could remember who I was with.  I can’t for the life of me remember who my date was.  You’d think a thing like that, which I have only done with one person, would make it easy to remember who the date was.  I find this amazing, because I pretty much remember who I take out and what we do.

Somewhere out there is a woman who doesn’t even remember that she went out with me once, let alone that I took her up to a fire escape balcony in the Ala Moana Hotel.

 

On Whom the Pale Moon Gleams

When I was in school at UH-Hilo, I wrote for the campus newspaper, whose office was my main hangout during the school day when I wasn’t in classes. I declared upon first being assigned a staff position (editorials page editor) that I wasn’t a newswriter, which in retrospect seems like a stupid thing to announce. I could really have learned some good stuff if I’d been willing to write news, but I was sorta focused on school, and chasing stories didn’t seem like the best use of my time.

So mostly i wrote a weekly column (it was a weekly paper) and copy-edited everything even though that wasn’t my job. The weekly column was just whatever was on my mind that week. I wrote stuff about circus animals, an instructor I observed crying in the library one day, masturbation, politics, sports, music, and relationships. The editor in chief gave me license to write anything I wanted, a freedom that almost never really exists in the real world when writing for pay.

Between that and the writing I did for my coursework, I was always working on something, although I didn’t yet have the discipline to write every day whether I had anything pressing or not. Mostly, I was driven by deadlines, something that continues today in my assigned writing but not my personal writing.

I’ve said this before but I’ll probably keep saying it until I die: the most valuable thing (besides my college degree, I guess) I gained while at school in Hilo was the experience of being appreciated. The newspaper staff liked me and valued what I brought to the paper and to the newsroom. The people in the campus ministry I belonged to, despite my being so different from everyone, loved me fiercely even when I intentionally made it very, very difficult to do so. And among my fellow English majors, I was sorta a middle-of-the-circle guy, instead of a fringe-dweller as I’d been pretty much my whole life as a student. For the first time in my life in school, I didn’t feel like I had to act a certain inauthentic way to gain acceptance, and I didn’t feel the need to shun acceptance in rebellion against inauthenticity (yes, it’s been a struggle forever). I was just me, and what a gift it was to be valued that way.

Somebody (not me, because I don’t have that kind of social initiative) would always start a study group when midterms came around, and we’d schedule sessions in the library, and if I couldn’t make it for whatever reason, they would reschedule. In class discussion, people wanted to know what I thought, and classmates often asked me to look at their papers in progress. And if I was having lunch in the cafeteria, I didn’t have to worry about finding someone to eat with, because I’d just find a table and people would join me. What the heck, right?

There was this guy, a non-traditional student named Johh, somewhat older than most of us working on English degrees, who was the only one of my classmates I was aware of who’d written stuff for money. He was good, and he often complimented me on whatever I’d just published in the paper. Praise from him was special to me, because I knew when he said nice things he wasn’t just talking about my opinions but also my writing, which of course is more important to me.

He was also the play-by-play radio announcer for all the UH-Hilo baseball games (or maybe it was the Hilo Stars, the Hawaii Winter Baseball League team we had, or maybe it was both), which was pretty cool too. He called a good game.

One day, he asked me how something I’d been working on was coming along. I can’t remember if it was a paper for a class, a column for the newspaper, or something else, perhaps a creative piece for one of my directed studies.

I said something about how much I was struggling with it. It sounded so artificial to me, and I was stiving for realism. Or at least believability.

He gave a friendly laugh, and said, “Mitchell, everything we write is artifice. Everything. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’ll see what I mean. Don’t get crippled by that.”

He was right, of course. This writing thing we do is maddening because it’s not a natural thing. Some of it is illusion; we use what we know of language to manipulate emotion or create something that was never there. We try to shape opinion, or simply report the facts of some event, but we do it beginning with a blank page, and we do it linearly, one letter at a time, and we do it without really using any of our senses (except sight for reading, of course0. That’s not the way the world happens, but we try to convince people that it does. All artifice. Most of us who are good at writing learned that when we were young: that we could fake our way through almost any written assignment if we wrote well. Write with authoritative enough a voice, and people think you’re an authority. Or choose some other voice and create some other reality for the reader, including the reality that you know what you’re doing even when you don’t.

John is still in Hilo, a writer for Hawaii Island’s only daily newspaper, and I had occasion to thank him recently for his words of encouragement. He uttered the truth that played a huge part in setting my writing free, and althogh I still struggle for authenticity, I know that it’s all filtered through the reality of creating something where something doesn’t really exist, and it remains some of the most valuable advice I’ve ever received.